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Jobseekers: focus less on job titles, and more on skills

Jobseekers: focus less on job titles, and more on skills


During my almost 13 years of experience in the recruitment industry one of the most interesting parts of my job has been advising people on their career. No matter the circumstances or the seniority of the people I meet, this is a topic which people are always willing to discuss, sometimes very openly.

An interesting trend emerged from these conversations: people were always talking about roles they should aim for, believing that the role itself would help them advance their career.


The death of the job for life

At first sight, this seems quite sensible; no matter your position in a company, you always report to somebody who reports to somebody else, and so on until you reach the top spot. For many people, making a career means advancing through different levels until they become CEO, or until they reach the top role or the ceiling of their skills and capabilities.

So quite logically, people will tell you during their job search that their next goal is to get to the position above theirs. Sounds logical, right?

Not quite. As long as employees are progressing their career within one company, this is indeed fine. However, the last 20 years – both in mature markets (where small startups are shaking up well-established business models) and developing countries (where talent shortage is an everyday reality) – have shown that this concept of “one employer, one career” is now more the exception than the rule.


Talking about your generation: Gen z are obsessed with job titles

Willingly or unwillingly, Generation X workers had to work for more employers on average than their predecessors, the baby-boomers. The next generation, Generation Y (the ‘Millennials’), are more focused on their own aspirations, and as such see no problem in moving to a different company every time they feel they cannot realize themselves with their current employer.

The new generation, Generation Z (the ‘post-Millennials’), are currently coming of age in a world where digital rules and the traditional company models are being up-ended. Yet, in spite of all the technological and hierarchical changes over these generations, the way people look at their career has not really changed. Generation Z, just as Generation X decades previous, are obsessed with job titles and moving up into the next role.


Talents over titles

A few years ago I was speaking with one of my friends who works in the humanitarian industry and, while we were discussing his career (a mandatory part of any discussion with somebody working in recruitment), he told me that he was assessing every new job opportunity by the skills and knowledge he would receive if taking over this role. He said that the title or the organization was of secondary concern to him.

I saw him turning down interesting offers just because the job would not give him the new skills and knowledge necessary to help him grow. I often heard the same approach when in discussion with hirers working at startups; when discussing their hiring needs they would almost always give me the skills applicants should possess, not the position they come from.


Branching out your skillset

Big businesses are now more susceptible to sudden changes than ever.

In today’s economy where uncertainty is becoming a constant feature, I believe this is the right “new approach”. Think for a second: if you wish to work for a startup you will join a company which – if it successfully grows – will change every year, if not every month, and where you will need to adapt to constantly changing business needs by fulfilling different roles. The focus will not be on the position you had before, but on the knowledge, skills and attitude you bring.

Even if you’re angling more towards bigger corporations, things are not idle there anymore either. Big businesses are now more susceptible to sudden changes or technological advances than ever, and as such have to make regular adjustments to their structures and practices. If you don’t have a wide-ranging skillset to meet these needs, then the business might not need you.


Don’t judge a job spec by its title

In my experience as a recruiter, even positions with the same titles can request very different skills. Being a business development director in a pharmaceutical company does not mean you can apply to the same job in the B2B sector: these are two very different roles requiring different soft and hard skills.

So when undertaking your next job search, try to look at your career aspirations in terms of skills, not job titles. Here is a list of questions to help you:

  • What is your ultimate career goal, inside or outside your current organization?
  • Which hard skills (practical and theoretical), knowledge and soft skills do you need to possess in order to get there?
  • Which skills do you already have and which ones do you still need to acquire?
  • Which skills will this next role bring you?

Not only will it give you a different approach to job searching which will often help you stand out, it will also help you thoroughly analyze and understand every new role you are being offered.

Discussing soft skills will help you understand whether you fit the new organization or not. I have met countless individuals in the right position, but in the wrong company because their values did not match those of their company; a mistake they could have avoided not only by looking at the company’s name and job title, but also at what is required to survive and thrive within that business. Similarly, employers should concern themselves less with what the candidate has written down on their CV and more with that candidate’s demonstrable skills and whether they are a good fit for the business, as articulated by our CEO in his latest Influencer blog.

Knowing where you want to go in life is good, but knowing how to get there is better.